There are some non-recreational activities, such as aerial photography, wildlife observation, environmental monitoring, etc., that seem well-suited to certain amateur-built aircraft. The open-cockpit Lockwood AirCam, which I understand was specifically designed with back-country nature photography and videography in mind, is just one example. Yet FAA regulations relating to airworthiness certificates appear to make no allowance whatsoever for an amateur-built experimental aircraft to be used for non-recreational/non-educational purposes. Am I misreading the regulations? Is there a legal way to use a homebuilt airplane for, say, commercial aerial photography?


According to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), aircraft with Experimental/Amateur-Built airworthiness certificates cannot be used for commercial purposes. However, I cannot find an FAA reg that specifically says that. (Anybody else know of a reg that says that?)

There are other grey areas as well. For example, what if your insurance is requiring dual instruction in the type before they will issue you a policy? The CFI would be using your aircraft for commercial purposes, even if you can legally claim you're the Pilot-in-Command.

However, the FAA talks about what things you cannot do without a commercial pilot license -- fly passengers or cargo for hire. My suggestion is that if you want to use your amateur-built aircraft for commercial photography, call your local FSDO and ask about that. Be nice to them and you'll be impressed how nice they can be to you.

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    $\begingroup$ 91.319 and 21.191 are the regs you're looking for. There's no problem with instruction, by the way; 21.191 specifically allows it, and if it's your aircraft then the CFI isn't the operator anyway. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Oct 12 '18 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ the local FSDO can’t give waivers for that kind of thing. The only way to do it would be to get a Legal Interpretation from the Office of the Chief Counsel, but since the regs are unambiguous that’s not likely to happen. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Oct 12 '18 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ Talking to your FSDO is not about getting waivers. You don't need a waiver to do something that is not prohibited by the regs, and the regs do not prohibit aerial photography. Private pilots are already allowed to operate aircraft for aerial photography and get paid for the photos, not the flying. $\endgroup$ – Juan Jimenez Oct 13 '18 at 10:23
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    $\begingroup$ I wasn't aware of that last statement ("private pilots are allowed ... to get paid for the photos"). Is there an FAA legal interpretation or advisory circular that makes that position clear? $\endgroup$ – Grant Petty Oct 13 '18 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @GrantPetty That was true, but it isn't any more. The FAA issued two interpretations: one said a private pilot could operate an aerial photography business; the other said it needed a commercial pilot. The tiebreaker is the Perry interpretation which says you need a commercial pilot. Makes sense to me: how could flying possibly be "incidental" to an aerial photography business? $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Oct 13 '18 at 16:08

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